What Exactly is IDOL, Anyway?

  • 18-Aug-2010

There's a lot of mysticism shrouding Autonomy's mega-search offering, "IDOL." Not in the least bit because every piece of software that is acquired by the vendor is either "plugged into," "powered by," or "integrated with" IDOL. Supposedly, it's both a server, a product -- and a platform. And it's pretty clear the company tries very hard to sell it to you, whether you're looking for enterprise search or not. But what actually is it?

One of the most succinct descriptions I've come across was posted by Jay Hill (of Lucid Imagination) in a LinkedIn group:

"IDOL (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) is Autonomy's search engine. IDOL servers are essentially the indexes themselves. Data is indexed into an IDOL server or a group of servers. There are connectors (FileSystemConnector, ODBC Fetch, etc.) which extract data from content sources, import the data in IDX (Autonomy format) or XML file formats, and then index the data into an IDOL server or servers. A DAH (Distributed Action Handler) can be used to query a cluster of IDOL server. A DIH (Distributed Index Handler) can be used to index to a cluster of IDOL servers. [...] Results are returned as structured XML."

What I like about this description is that it brings IDOL down to its essence: it's a search index, that lives on your server as an executable. When something's plugged into IDOL, powered by IDOL, or integrated with IDOL, this really means you'll have the IDOL, DIH, and DAH executables running alongside the other software. Operating these is hard-core "command-line cowboy" kind of stuff.

Now, there are plenty such cowboys around, and they're perfectly happy with the software. But unfortunately, quite a few of Autonomy's other customers weren't quite prepared for it, and ended up unhappy with what they bought. Of course, it's tempting to blame the vendor's marketing and salesforce for this; but that's a bit like accusing a tiger of hunting deer. You can't really blame them for trying.

In reality, the burden is on you, the technology buyer, to inform yourself before you commit. That will take more than just reading the one paragraph description above. The review in our Search & Information Access research takes twelve pages to get to the core of what the tool actually does, what it's good at, and what it's not. In the end, Autonomy has some clever technology, but there's nothing mystical about it. And there's no reason to let yourself get caught in the headlights.